Autism in Children an Epidemic? 78% increase in prevalence of autism in children in 6 years

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More than 1 percent, or 1 in every 88 children, is diagnosed with autism today, including 1 in 54 boys, according a new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is a 78% percent increase of autism in children in 6 years (2002-2008) and a staggering 10-fold (1000%) increase in reported prevalence over the last 40 years.

This report on autism in children uses the same methodology that produced the CDC’s 2009 prevalence findings of 1 in 110 children with autism.

The report further states that although multiple factors influence the identification of children with autism spectrum disorders and differences in prevalence estimates across sites, the data provided in the report indicate the need for further exploration of possible associations between overall prevalence of autism spectrum disorders and improved identification among children without intellectual disability, children in all racial/ethnic populations, and both males and females, including potential interactions between these factors.

Autism is a general term used to describe a group of complex developmental brain disorders – autism spectrum disorders – caused by a combination of genes and environmental influences. Autism spectrum disorders are characterized by impairments in social interaction and communication and by restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior. Symptoms typically are apparent in children before age 3 years. The complex nature of these disorders, coupled with a lack of biologic markers for diagnosis and changes in clinical definitions over time, creates challenges in monitoring the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders. Accurate reporting of data is essential to understand the prevalence of autism spectrum disorders in the population and can help direct research.

The world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, Autism Speaks, today called on the nation’s elected and appointed leaders to immediately develop a new, coordinated strategy to take on this national public health emergency – the autism epidemic – in the wake of the new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control finding that autism is now diagnosed in a staggering 1 in every 88 American children.

Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks, said, "We have an epidemic on our hands.  The costs are staggering and will continue to rise as prevalence continues to increase. We know that early diagnosis and treatment are critical, so it is imperative that the U.S. government steps up its commitment to helping people living with autism today. There is a way to address this.  The investment we make now is essential to reducing the immediate and long-term costs of autism to families and society."

"Our commitment must meet the challenge," added Wright.  "We need the President, the public health agencies and representatives from both sides of the aisle to come together.  A national emergency needs a national strategy.  Anything less won't be enough."
The CDC report was published in this week’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
"We know early diagnosis matters, but early diagnosis without access to treatment means nothing," said Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D., Autism Speaks chief science officer. "A majority of children don't get the treatment and services they need and deserve.  We have to address all of this as we move forward."
"The CDC numbers are alarming, yet they don’t begin to tell the story of the real families, real individuals struggling every day," said Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr.  "From fighting to get a diagnosis and secure appropriate educational services and therapies, to trying to manage tremendous financial and emotional burdens or find a satisfying job opportunity, families are engaged in a daily battle against this disorder. We need to marshal the same resources and attention that the government has devoted to other diseases and disorders and finally make this a fair fight."
The total 2011 National Institutes of Health budget was $30.5 billion. Of this, only $169 million – or 0.6% -- was directly focused on autism research.
Earlier this week, Autism Speaks announced preliminary results of new research that estimates autism costs society a staggering $126 billion per year (U.S.) – a number that has more than tripled since 2006. This cost increases to $137B with the new prevalence numbers. The cost of providing care for each person with autism affected by intellectual disability in the U.S. is $2.3 million through his or her lifespan. The lifetime cost of caring for individuals who are not impacted by intellectual disability is $1.4 million. The Autism Speaks-funded research was conducted by researchers Martin Knapp, Ph.D., of the London School of Economics and David Mandell, Sc.D. of the University of Pennsylvania.

The CDC reports concludes, 'the findings provided in this report confirm that prevalence estimates of ASD continue to increase in the majority of ADDM Network communities, and ongoing public health surveillance is needed to quantify and understand these changes over time. Further work is needed to evaluate multiple factors affecting ASD prevalence over time.'

Related Science Stories:
Signature of Autism Can Be Seen In the Brain
Children with autism have a different type of gut bacteria

The Science of Gut Feeling: Gut Bacteria Influence Brain Chemistry and Behavior

Siblings play key role in child development-University of Queensland

Science Story Reference: 

1. Prevalence of Autism Spectrum Disorders — Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network, 14 Sites, United States, 2008. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). March 30, 2012 / 61(SS03);1-19.

2. Autism Speaks Press Release

3. Autism Fact Sheet, NINDS



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